The Federal Communications Commission and Acting Chairman Michael Copps have reversed fields regarding the Media Bureau’s ruling on program access complaints.

In a letter yesterday, the FCC announced that it was sending the matter back to an administrative law judge (ALJ).

Michael Copps

“On our own motion, we conclude that the factual determinations required to fairly adjudicate these matters are best resolved through hearings before an administrative law judge, rather than solely through pleadings and exhibits as contemplated by the Media Bureau,” the letter said. “We believe that these proceedings are best resolved by hearings before an administrative law judge.”

The ruling revolves around complaints that were filed by Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, Wealth TV and The NFL Network in regard to cable operators carrying their programming on basic tiers that are available to more viewers instead of sports tiers that cost more. The complaints were levied at Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox and Bright House Networks.

On Oct. 13, the FCC sided with The NFL Network, ruling that Comcast should carry the league's network on its basic digital cable package (story here). As per the FCC’s rules, the decision was turned over to an administrative law judge, who was required to make recommendations regarding the matter to the Commission within 60 days.

In yesterday’s letter, the FCC instructed the presiding administrative law judge to issue a revised schedule for the hearing and procedures that accounted for any delays caused by the Media Bureau’s recent actions.

“We are pleased that the Commission, under the leadership of Chairman Copps, has acted to return these cases to the administrative law judge for a careful consideration of the facts consistent with the due process rights of all parties," said Sena Fitzmaurice, Comcast’s senior director of corporate communications and government affairs, in an e-mail to CED. "The ALJ had previously set forth a reasoned, expedited adjudicative process, and we look forward to working with the judge to restart the hearing under his jurisdiction."

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